Is the U.S. a Democracy?

Lee Tremblay

The cost of higher education. The Great Recession. Divisive politics based on party lines. The underrepresentation of women and minorities in Congress. Food stamp cutbacks. Energy policy. The government shutdown. All of these issues and many more have one thing in common: big money in politics.

It’s a flaw in our democratic system and it has us caught in a loop. Take big

energy, for example: by bankrolling political campaigns across the country, energy corporations allow candidates to afford the expensive advertising campaigns of competitive elections. Then, an energy company as an organization can do what you or I could do as a U.S. citizen: request that politicians vote a certain way on a specific issue. Of course, if a politician chooses to vote against the energy corporation, it will likely cease its funding and take its money to a different candidate.

The problem is this: unlike most individual voters, corporations have the kind of money that wins or loses an election, meaning their requests influence politicians much more than any one person could. Our representatives are not representing us – they’re representing their big donors. While corporations aren’t inherently evil, their purpose is profit, not what is best for the American public.

A more mundane example is sugar. We pay three times the global price of sugar in the U.S. due to a program which essentially guarantees income to a handful of huge sugar and sugar beet-producing companies, lobbied for by the American Sugar Alliance (ASA). But for every worker in the sugar industry (about 142,000), three manufacturing jobs (i.e. candy makers) are lost overseas because it’s too expensive to buy the sugar to make candy here. Yet this

program has been extended again and again, with bipartisan support, as the ASA outspends small domestic confectioners in campaign contributions.

These two examples are just the beginning. The United States may be a democracy in name but our elections can’t be called free and fair when the average citizen’s vote means less than the request of a large campaign donor. We have lost our self-determinism to those who have the wealth to determine who runs, who wins and what they vote for or against.

This is not a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike accept campaign contributions and are influenced by big money. They have to be in order to have a chance at getting elected. But this isn’t the way it has to be; there is an affordable alternate in place in countries like Sweden and Iceland who, not coincidentally, are current world leaders in areas like education, healthcare and energy.

Publicly funded elections, also fittingly known as “clean elections,” “clean money” and “voter-owned elections,” use a tiny fraction of the government budget to give candidates equal resources to run with.

Closer to home, 25 states have at least partially implemented publicly funded elections and there has recently been a push to switch to public funding for the state of New York.

Colgate students can speak out against this threat to democracy by joining student organizations to voice their opinions at an open campus forum.

Contact Lee Tremblay at [email protected]